Assignment Policies: They Matter

I opened up my email this evening to see yet another student email with the familiar attachment icon. Oh, joy: another unwanted emailed assignment.

You’d think I wouldn’t receive those since I have an across-the-board policy in all of my undergraduate classes that I do not accept assignments via email. Students may hand in a hard-copy at any time (there’s a late penalty that starts to accrue after the due date) or submit an electronic copy through our university’s online dropbox up to the due date. I will even, if there are special circumstances, open the dropbox to a later date for a student. I don’t want emailed assignments. I have a policy that clearly says that and, yet, every term, every year? I get emailed assignments.


Emailed assignments are the hangnails of my academic life. They disrupt my well-oiled system to track and respond to assignments. They irk me enormously.

I can’t integrate emailed assignments into our dropbox. It only permits feedback for assignments submitted through the system. In fact, recent upgrades present me only those students who submitted online when I go into the grading mode for any given group of papers. That’s efficient but not adaptable to these emailed drop-ins.

I can’t integrate emailed assignments into my hard-copy marking unless I print them out. So now I have to track the student email until I’m able to print the paper. Considering how much I work on the road, that could be a good day or two. It’s really annoying to think at 11pm “Oh, yeah, now I have that paper to print that I didn’t ask to get via email” and go traipsing down the stairs to fire up the old printer.

How about I do it all on email? Now you’re asking me to set up a third system that I’ll have to manage. I have to make sure to save the emails, download the assignments, unzip the files, track them until I have time to mark them, mark them up as well as recording my additional comments, then save the lot. After that, I have to log back into email (let’s hope it’s up!), make sure I’m emailing the right student (which is a challenge in and of itself), and finally send them their marked-up assignment and the additional comments.

Worst of all is that these emailed assignments only come because the student missed the deadline. That’s the deadline they’ve had on the syllabus since the very first day of the term. These emails almost never are accompanied by an acknowledgement of that except a comment to the effect that “the dropbox was closed so here’s my assignment”. A student who emails me with an honest query “I tried to submit my paper online but the dropbox closed” will get a chance at sympathy and a link to the newly reopened dropbox. A student who emails the assignment? Gets my eternal irk. And is that what anyone wants at marking time? I think not.


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